Following a period of speculation, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak has retained his party’s leadership post. Najib went unchallenged in the internal election for UMNO’s presidency position, which should allow him to remain Prime Minister of Malaysia for the next three years.

Najib Razak

Najib retains UMNO presidency

Prime Minister Najib has retained presidency of the United Malays Nasional Organization (UMNO), the biggest party in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, which has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1963. While BN has presided over considerable successes, the party has come under fire for corruption, cronyism, and has been accused of not possessing the vision necessary to guide Malaysia in the modern globalized economy.

In the weeks leading up to the party election, some analysts speculated that Najib could be challenged for the leadership post following an abysmal showing in the May 2013 national elections. Barisan Nasional, the ruling coalition which Najib leads, suffered its worse showing ever and even lost the popular vote. Some believed that these losses would force Najib from power.

Najib’s job performance polls

Still, UMNO would appear to have few other leaders to turn to. Najib himself actually enjoys higher approval ratings than his party. The last available polls, from February 2013, showed that 61 percent of Malaysians approved of Prime Minister Najib’s job performance. In contrast, only 45 percent of Malaysians were happy with Barisan Nasional’s performance.

Going into the elections, Najib himself was actually one of BN’s best-selling points. While the party is widely unpopular, the Prime Minister does enjoy moderate popularity. With Najib recently announcing that he will change course of racial integration and equality by supporting race-based affirmative action, however, Najib may see his own approval ratings slip.

Malaysian economy growth expectations

Malaysia will face tough years ahead as the country strives to achieve fully developed status. The country is facing intense competition from lower cost neighbors, such as Thailand and China. This is putting pressure on the country’s manufacturing sector, long the backbone of the economy. At the same time, competition from Singapore and Australia will hinder Malaysia’s efforts to develop more advanced industries.

Malaysia will continue to strive to reach “Vision 2020”, a goal set by former Prime Minister Mahathir, to achieve fully-developed status by 2020. Still, with the world economy struggling amid tepid growth and huge debt levels, actually achieving this goal may prove to be impossible. In order to secure such loft aspirations, Malaysia will have to record growth rates of at least 7 percent in each year leading up to 2020.

Risks for Malaysia

In the past, achieving such growth rates would have been viable, but with current global conditions, such an achievement seems questionable at best. If Malaysia should fail to achieve Vision 2020, BN will find itself under even more pressure. This goal has long been the rallying point for the BN lead government, and failure to do it will cast further doubts on the coalition’s ability to govern.

Unless BN is able to turn around public perception within the next few years, there is a serious risk that BN could be outright defeated in the next election. Already, the opposition party Pakatan Rakyat, was able to secure the popular vote, taking some 51 percent of all votes in the last election. While BN has retained parliament due to district gerrymandering, the coalition appears to be slowly losing its grip on the country.